Thursday 26 March 2020
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Wild Fallow Deer


[12.42 p.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, this looks like a special interest speech, and I am cognisant of time.  I will not say too much, because I do not want to miss anything in what I say; I have not prepared for a moment such as this.

I might distribute an email to everybody about the thoughts I have about this particular moment.  I trust there may be a time in the future when we gather when I may be able to, with Carole, talk with you all about the wonderful experience of being a legislator here.  Thank you for your kind words, I very much appreciate it.

There is an issue I have wanted to cover.  It seems difficult to cut across the feeling here about coronavirus, and about this circumstance for me, but it will be my final opportunity to present this issue, which I progressed last week and this week in the House.  I have obligations to progress this issue, and I do have new evidence, by the way.

I had some more questions about the deer population in Tasmania, which has only come through in the Hansard, which I have been able to see.  I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the Government is dragging its feet over a proposal for a feral deer meat industry in Tasmania.

The questions I asked last week were virtually fobbed off.  The main part of the question was:  Is the Government considering allowing wild deer to be processed commercially for meat, given the overpopulation of feral deer, and the problems they pose to farmers?  Is the Government aware that the present ban on processing wild deer for meat results in many thousands of wild deer being shot to protect farm crops, and simply being left to rot?

The response, in part, was -

The Government recognises that farmers, foresters and community members have expressed the desire to use deer taken under crop protection permits for commercial purposes.  The Government's policy is clear in this regard.  We acknowledge there is genuine interest and potential in developing value-added and branded wild deer products. 

The Legislative Council inquiry regarding potential commercialisation of feral deer is now four years old.  The feral deer population has exploded in those four years, and still the Government drags its feet.  It seems to hope the issue will go away. 

Well, this is the new information I have.  There is a Facebook page campaign which has recorded almost 10 000 visits.  Of those, 3451 people have commented, liked or shared it; 89 individuals have emailed the minister.

The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association has changed its policy on wild fallow deer.  It supports the culling of wild populations, and also the sale of wild deer meat for human consumption.  The policy change was driven by increasing commercial losses for farmers caused by wild deer browsing.  It is estimated that if the present rate of deer management continues, there will be two feral deer for every Tasmanian by 2050.

A feral deer meat industry is supported by many shooters, and a wide range of property owners, including one of Tasmania's biggest graziers, Roderic O'Connor.  It is estimated the deer cost farmers $40 million a year.  The increase in irrigation for cropping means farmers have even more to lose from deer browsing on their property. 

Deer also damage forestry plantations.

Deer numbers have increased to the point where they are becoming a road safety issue.  Carole hit one a few years ago coming back from Deloraine.  Wrecked the car.  Very, very dangerous.  Car full of kids.

Deer have started to expand into sensitive World Heritage areas, and to damage biodiversity.  Again, against this worsening problem, demand for game meat and wild venison is increasing.  Processing wild-shot wallabies, kangaroos and possums for human consumption is allowed.

Game meat processors are importing wild venison meat from New South Wales, Victoria and New Zealand to meet demand.  Six tonnes are imported each year into Tasmania.

There is growing demand from those who believe pest species should be utilised for food and not wasted.  We have a situation where deer numbers are out of control.  Deer are being killed under the crop protection permit system, although some of those are eaten by hunters and their associates.

Hunters say there is only so much you can give away.  It is ironic they can eat the venison with no food controls, yet others cannot when it has been commercially processed.  Although the Government denies it, it is estimated that 15 000 deer are shot and left to rot in pits or in the bush.

Processing wild-shot venison for human consumption is an economic opportunity for Tasmania.  All the Government has to do is change the rules.  No other government support or subsidy is needed.  Nothing.  So, why is this not happening?

What loss are people fearing?  Some hunters worry that full-scale commercial use will decimate numbers, so there will be no deer left to hunt.  This is not being proposed.

The request is that deer killed under the crop protection permit system be processed for human consumption.  If numbers reduce to the point where crop protection permits are no longer needed, then commercial processing will stop.

Currently, landowners have arrangements with recreational shooters to control deer on their properties.  That will not change.  They can choose to allow recreational or commercial shooters onto their property.

It would seem that the fears over commercialisation are unfounded.  Until recently, it was illegal to distil whisky in Tasmania.  For goodness sake, look at the industry.

It is time to change the way we manage and utilise feral deer.  Tasmania needs a new industry.  There is the potential to add to the state's reputation for fine food by adding wild venison to the menu.  There are jobs that will be created here.  I just hope the Government will realise that.

Mr President, thank you for your time.  Thank you for the levity.  Thank you everyone.  That sounded like a special interest speech, didn't it?  Thank you for the opportunity.